September 13, 2019 by Lee
We woke this morning with the intention to visit South Mountain, which was the prelude battle before Antietam 1862. From everything I’ve read of the battle at South Mountain was that it was a small action as American Civil War battles go.
Our original plans had been to stop at Harpers Ferry in passing on our way from Hagerstown to Middletown tomorrow. However, everyone that we had spoken to had said we absolutely must stop and see Harpers Ferry. So with this in mind when I woke this morning I decided to look for a hotel in Harpers Ferry and cut our stay in Hagerstown short by one night. Luckily a room was available and we booked it and set out on our way.
It wasn’t long before we turned into the road leading to Harpers Ferry and our first view of the Potomac river confirmed we had made the right choice. For anyone who doesn’t know me, I really like landscapes and views and I could sit and admire them for hours.
We first headed to find the hotel and after several drives up and down the hill, we stopped outside to check we had the right place (this was after I was approached by the park rangers for what he thought I was loitering at the side of the road). We met the owner of the hotel Karen who was very friendly. We had a great conversation with her about her history and travels and she was very keen to know more about us. We stopped in her cafe for tea and a snack and then made our way back down the hill to have a look around. The town is like a living museum and steeped in history.
In 1794 the then president and wealthy property owner George Washington visited Harpers Ferry. Impressed by its location at the joining of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers and its natural beauty, Washington selected the town as the site for a new national armoury. By 1796 the arsenal was established, and machines shops and rifle works factories brought industry to Harpers Ferry.
Buy the 1850s Harpers Ferry emerged as a significant transportation hub with the building of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad.
Known for the murder of slave holders, in October 1859 John Brown determined that he would free the slaves in Virginia by instigating a revolt that would spread through the slave holding state. Brown planned to capture the arsenal at Harpers Ferry and use the weapons to arm his followers, which he hopped would include the recruitment of slaves to join his rebellion.
The raid failed with John Brown and his men becoming trapped in the arsenal surrounded by Virginia and Maryland Militia. President James Buchanan ordered a company of 90 marines led by Colonel Robert E Lee and assisted by captain J.E.B Stuart (these two names become iconic in the Confederate army in the American Civil War) , to put down the rebellion. Upon arriving in Harpers Ferry, Lee (the real one – Jason Ralls) ordered the marines to storm the arsenal and capture Brown and his men. John Brown was hanged on December 2nd 1859. Many believed this to be the spark that set off the road to civil war.
During the American Civil War between 1861 – 1865 Harpers Ferry changed hands 14 times. Despite its strategic importance, Harpers Ferry was an indefensible military position. When the Confederate army invaded the north through West Virginia and Maryland, General Lee ordered General Thomas J (stonewall) Jackson to capture the arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Jackson took a third of the army and upon arriving at Harpers Ferry he positioned his artillery around the very large hills surrounding the town and proceeded to bombard Harpers Ferry. Not long after the bombardment started the Union Garrison of 12,400 men surrendered on September 15 1862. This was the largest surrender of Union troops during the Civil War.
The importance of today’s visit in our journey was the link that 2 days after capturing Harpers Ferry, Stonewall Jackson would be fighting a major battle at Antietam, see previous post Day 4 to find out more.
We have really enjoyed our visit to Harpers Ferry and again would recommend anyone to visit this fantastic location.
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